Friday, March 12, 2010

SOUTHEAST CITIES SCHOOLS COALITION, AKA SAN ANTONIO USD: George Cole's dirty fat hands now in the cookie jar of charter schools

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♪ smfnotes: This is muckraking freedom-of-speech journalism @ its loudest and most free; another passionate if anonymous voice heard from about public education issues in LAUSD. Just because it’s posted on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. However…………. 

Monday, March 8, 2010 -- Maywood, CA -- When Martha Escutia was this area's state Senator, before termed out of office, she authored an assembly bill looking into the
feasibility of having public schools located in southeast cities breaking away from LAUSD.

In 2001, this little-noticed Senate Bill by Escutia was signed into California
law. SB 1380 allowed the State to pay for a study exploring the feasibility
of forming a new school district via splintering southeast cities away from
the Los Angeles Unified School District: "This bill authorizes a
reorganization study of LAUSD". It is significant that AB 1381, the Mayor's
failed take-over plan of LAUSD was numerically sequential to SB 1380,
though separated by a 5 year gap.

George Cole has been inching towards the goal of having his very own
school district ever since. The Southeast Cities Schools Coalition is a
group created by Cole to ride the legislative carte blanche of SB 1380.
Though no longer an elected official, George Cole is at the helm. The
Coalition meets once a month in the council chambers of Vernon City Hall.
The Coalition's goal? Fiscal control of about 40 campuses in Bell, Cudahy,
Huntington Park,  Maywood, South Gate and Vernon, with 60,000
students, and more importantly, millions of dollars in school budgets up
for grabs, and incredibly lucrative contracts for trash hauling and food
services to name a few. George, a former city of Bell councilman, has
reportedly already approached one principal who is heading up a charter
break-away school team to offer "help" with trash hauling and food
service contracts. This team submitted a proposal to LAUSD
Superintendent Ramon Cortines in a bid to become an independent
charter campus. George was quoted as stating to the principal that he
knows who can offer such contract services to the newly independent
Charter campus. This is disturbing on many levels.

 George Cole,
spearheaded creation
of the Southeast Cities
Schools Coalition
  Ramon Cortines,
LAUSD Superintendent

Monica Garcia,
LAUSD Board President
and water girl for L.A.
Mayor Villaraigosa

 Yolie Flores Aguilar,
Board Member LAUSD
southeast cities of
Bell, Cudahy,
Huntington Park,
Maywood, South Gate and areas of
South L.A.  Yolie was duly elected to
represent the
interests of students and parents from
these areas.

Maywood Academy High School,
Maywood, CA, an LAUSD campus newly
built and now breaking away from
LAUSD. It's operating council will have one board member from the Southeast Cities School Coalition.
Elected city officials are board members, some of whom are currently under investigation by District Attorney and/or the FBI.

In case you are wondering if the editor is making up slanderous
accusations, this is already happening, as evidenced by the public record.
I simply report what the public record has reflected in the past: George
Cole has been successfully winning transportation contracts and toilet
replacement contracts, all worth millions of dollars, all awarded under
rigged bidding conditions where George Cole's Oldtimers Foundation was
not even the low bidder or even the responsible bidder. Belaboring the
point, in an egregious case of outright corruption involving an elected
official and a private charter school in 2006, Huntington Park councilman
John Noguez held approval of a charter school hostage. In a meeting
called by Noguez and attended by city attorney Francisco Leal and
representatives of Pacific Charter School held at the City Club in
Downtown L.A., Noguez demanded a $50,000 campaign contribution from
Pacific Charter in exchange for project approval from city council. Pacific
Charter was backed up against a wall having promised parents and
students that the campus would open on time for the Fall semester.
Whatever amount was exchanged was never reported on Noguez'
campaign contribution statements for that year. John Noguez and George
Cole share campaign managers and political contributors like addicts
swapping dirty needles. Now Pacific Charter and John Noguez are
buddy-buddies, to the point that John has convinced city council to front
fund site construction costs for a new private charter school in Huntington
Park. Pacific Charter quickly learned their lesson.

George Cole is seemingly out to teach LAUSD's Region 6 break-away
charter schools a lesson too. Cole is director of the Oldtimers Foundation
based in Huntington Park and has received millions of dollars in rigged
contracts from Huntington Park city officials and from the Central Basin
Water District. has been reporting on George Cole's
highly questionable contra public Interest activity. When the Spanish daily
newspaper La Opinion was seeking public records from city of Bell
officials, George Cole was still a councilman and the de facto godfather of
politics in southeast cities (an L.A. Times article referred to him as such),
famously directed city officials to respond that Bell's business is nobody's
business and refused to give over public records.

The charter proposals for this school and another, Maywood Academy
High School, prominently state in both instances that a core member of
each charter's operating board will be a representative from the
Southeast Cities Schools Coalition. This key internal operating group will
have complete control over use of schools funds, including awarding of
contracts for food service, trash hauling, maintenance and consultants.
The Coalition is funded by each member city, and also cover the cost of
the coalition's attorney and an executive director. Recently, the Coalition's
Director fired the Coalition's attorney for allegedly highly questionable
billing practices. The attorney did not appeal the firing. That attorney
happened to be none other than Francisco Leal, Huntington Park's city
attorney, previously Maywood's city attorney and is a good friend of John
Noguez and George Cole.

Board members of the Southeast Cities Schools Coalition are made up of
one elected council member from each member city (Bell, Cudahy,
Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon). These are the same
elected officials currently under investigation by the District Attorney
and/or the FBI for misappropriation of public funds (in the case of the DA's
current investigation of Maywood and Bell officials). And these are the
same elected officials that are listed as "key" members with authority
over budgets for these breakaway charter schools. Superintendent
Cortines approved the proposals just last week.

In the same week that the L.A. Times reported the D.A.'s investigation
into allegations of misappropriation of public funds by city officials in the
cities of Maywood and Bell, LAUSD awarded newly minted break-away
charter schools to local operators which included elected officials from the
same cities.

Both the Times and LAUSD failed to connect the dots. And the dots are

On the one hand, the District Attorney's office launches an investigation
of Maywood and Bell public officials for alleged misappropriation of public
funds, while on the other, these same officials pretend to play key roles in
fiscal management of these new charter schools given away by Sup
Ramon Cortines, an ally, if not outright water carrier, for Mayor

This was L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's intention with his AB 1381, the
school takeover plan which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the
State's high court. Plan "B", it seems, is to take over the school district
not in one fell swoop, but in tiny pieces. This way, the drop-by-drop
bloodletting is not as noticeable.

But such alarms of conflicts of interest may ring in deaf ears. Cortines
found himself in a double-dipping scandal of his own recently, making
$250,000 as LAUSD Superintendent, all the while sitting on Scholastic's
Board, making $150,000 a year, and Scholastic making $5 million from

Moreover, the Über water carrier for Villaraigosa, school board president
Monica Garcia, presented a deceitfully nonchalant defense of Cortines'
plain and crass conflict of interest. Her response does not give a warm
and fuzzy feeling that she will side with the public interest. Even the L.A.
Times editorial board gave her the equivalent of a slap upside the head
for her deceit. Cortines quit the Scholastic Board eventually within days of
the Times report, leaving Monica's excuse for Cortines' double-dipping
foolishly flapping in the wind.

The whole conceit of George Cole's Schools Coalition rests on its
"mission" of improving student achievement. And everyone buys it.
Additionally, Cole, the Coalition's ambassador without official portfolio,
peddles the Coalition as a "community group" to charter school
applicants, thus adding an extra layer of legitimatizing varnish. That
varnish is then bought up by the charter school operators such as the
ones at Maywood Academy High School and at the new Southeast
Elementary School #3 in Bell-Cudahy. One of LAUSD's key criteria for
approving charter school break-aways is this coupling with "community
groups". An ultimate sleight of hand is that charter proposals specifically
list the Schools Coalition as a "Community Group", when, in fact, it is a
Joint Powers Authority. It's like saying that the Vector Control District is a
local boy scout group out chasing mosquitos, or like saying that the local
water boards are really just little ol' ladies in their Sunday best out for a
drink of tea. A Joint Powers authority is not a community group. And that
is how the Southeast Cities Schools Coalition is listed on applications
submitted to LAUSD. That is a material misrepresentation. The Coalition
board does not count any members of the community, any parents,
business owners or even students as members.

Making matters a wee-bit embarrassing for the Maywood Academy
Charter applicants, the very first paragraph of the very first sheet of the
charter break-away proposal mentions that it has a plan to serve the
"Mentally Retarded" students of this community. Educators have not used
this terminology for some time, now. I understand this change is not due
to political correctness, but rather to a better understanding of learning
abilities based on current ground-breaking research. Some would argue
this could be considered a drawback. I hope Ramon Cortines caught it
and made a comment to the applicant to correct this.  It's bad enough
that the applicant partners with some questionable characters, but for
the applicant to make such a basic mistake calls into question the
expertise for leading education policy for this or any other campus.
The Schools Coalition is not a community group; it is far from it; initially
started by elected officials meeting in private back rooms of restaurants
(yes, breaking the Brown act all the while) back when Antonio Villaraigosa
was still married to his teacher-wife and was pinning to takeover control
of LAUSD with AB 1381 (if Villaraigosa was so concerned about public
school education, why did he leave his wife, a grade-school teacher?).
Back then, George gathered his flock of key elected officials from each
member city and proposed his plan for the "Southeast School Coalition"
and made each of them commit to provide seed money to hire an
attorney and a director. Martha Escutia's 2001 bill  laid the operational
blueprint for the creation of the coalition via a tool called Joint Powers
Authority (member cities hold common interest and control via the Joint
Powers" tool as allowed by California law).

The Coalition is now considered legit, even ostensibly inviting the public
to its monthly meetings (none show up, unless bussed in by George
Cole), and to cast all doubt about its sincerity and concern for the parents
and public, an official marquee in front of Huntington Park city hall even
gives it top billing, advertising its monthly meetings. It has no staff, only
an executive director making $65,000 a year salary (who by the way, was
a former Escutia senate staffer and has since left), an attorney billing
who- knows-how-much because this it's not the public's business to
know, and the board members-city council members, because they are
trying to make as much as they can from the public tit. So what work does
the Coalition do if there is no staff? Parents didn't vote for this coalition to
represent them. Parents in southeast cities elected Yolie Flores Aguilar,
the local board member representing their interests and that of their
school-age children before the LAUSD school board. So the Southeast
Cities Schools Coalition doesn't functionally, or democratically even,
represent interests of parents or students (ignore here the fact that Yolie
was hand-picked by Villaraigosa, but I digress).
So who's interest does the Southeast Cities Schools Coalition represent?
Members of the Schools Coalition were a bit peeved when they were not
invited by LAUSD to participate in the Charter selection process. They
sent a complaint letter to Superintendent Cortines requesting more
transparency in the Charter School selection process. To his credit, Mr.
Cortines addressed the Coalition in a response letter, essentially putting
them in their place, (undated, around February 2010). Cortines points out
that the "Southeast Cities Schools Coalition has actively partnered and
supported some of the applicants" and cites this as the main reason for
not inviting them.  The Coalition's second complaint with LAUSD was
about why "there was a lack of transparency in the [charter school
applicant] selection process". This is really a specious argument. The
Coalition arguing for "transparency"? Take the transparency card back to
each of the city council members and ask them to be just as transparent
with the million dollar contracts they give over to George Cole. You, dear
reader, will hit a wall more opaque than The Great Wall of China.

Transparency? From Bell, Maywood, Huntington Park, Cudahy (molotov
cocktails through political opponents' windows on election eve, anyone?)
Who are they kidding? This  request for LAUSD transparency by city
elected officials is highly hypocritical at best. The D.A. and FBI do not
launch investigations because these guys are openly transparent. 

The Coalition's website states "Bringing Accountability to Our Schools".
This from the same officials who could care less about accountability of
their own actions in city councils.  A Wikipedia article on the City of
Maywood notes that Maywood joined the "Southeast Cities School
Coalition to improve the education of the children of the Southeast". You
can't even get Coalition Board Agendas or Meeting minutes from the their
website. Talk about open and transparent.

Don't be fooled by George Cole's Southeast Cities Schools Coalition or the
triple-A farm league of Latino politico board members calling themselves a
"community group". They could care less about your kids and their quality
of education. None of them, without exception, have any children
attending an LAUSD campus. All them have an interest in having budget
authority over each of the 40 plus campuses. None of them have been
trained in Education or have advanced degrees in education. All of them
have been tainted by investigations of official corruption in one form or
Back in May 1, 2008, local State Assemblyman Hector de la Torre hosted
then LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer at a meeting to present a
partnering agenda between LAUSD and the Southeast Cities Schools
Coalition. De la Torre is a former South Gate councilman and ally of
George Cole. The Coalition noted seven areas of "concern" by the so
called "community" they self-anointed to represent:
1. Overcrowding
2. Lack of involvement in school site selection safety
3. Credentialed teachers
4. College tracking
5. Local authority over budget and staffing
6. Decision making authority
7. High priority schools that are facing a state takeover [Editor: What
In case you missed it, items #5 and #6 above should have caught your
eye. Frankly, I don't know of any parent or "community member" who is
interested in having "authority over budget and staffing" or in "decision
making authority" unless they were the school principal. These activities
are best left to the principals who have specialized training in running,
well you know, a school. But why is an elected official interested in having
budget authority over a school? Elected officials in southeast cities, with
very few exceptions, barely have a high school diploma, and are running
their city's budget's to bankruptcy, and are under investigation for
misappropriation of public funds, but I digress.

The collective fiscal mismanagement of city treasuries by these elected
officials borders on the criminal, if not downright criminal. And yet they
demand decision making authority and authority over school budgets?
God help us if the FBI won't.

The Southeast Cities Schools Coalition is a slick political tool, pure and
simple, an extension of city council chambers, subject to discussion in
council's closed door sessions as regular city business because the Joint
Powers Agreement carries legal and liability ramifications as well. There is
nothing "community" about it at all. It is lipstick on a pig, if you will.
Because the pork from break-away charter schools will be delectably
juicy. The fat cat will get fatter on the backs of school age kids. As a
former city council member, George Cole knows how lucrative trash
hauling contracts can be, or any other contract, for that matter. Do you
know how much a trash hauling contract is worth for serving 40 plus
schools, each with a dozen trash containers requiring daily pickup, for 20
years? You can do the math. Or how much a food service contract will
ultimately be worth if it feeds 60,000 students on an daily basis for years
to come? The Mafia would salivate to get in on this racket.

The Southeast Cities Schools Coalition disguises itself as a "community
group" so LAUSD can allow charter school applicants to pass muster with
their community outreach and partnering requirements. This disguise is
nothing more than a Trojan Horse created by Cole, city councils and their
slick city attorney (yes, the crafty Harvard trained Francisco Leal- Veritas?
I don't got to show you no stinking Veritas!) to create a back door entry
with a direct pipeline connecting city councils on one end with a school's
budget and staffing decisions on the other. Precisely this is what they
were prevented from doing under Mayor Villaraigosa's unconstitutional AB
1381. Distilled in simple terms, the state constitution clearly prohibits city
councils, mayors and political operatives, from "direct" control of public
school district budgets, policy, staffing decisions and contracting issues.
In contrast, Martha Escutia's intent with SB 1380 was to create a
legitimate mechanism for duly creating a complete stand-alone
break-away, school district complying with all constitutional requirements,
not this shifty illegal, unconstitutional, and deceptive, back-door pipeline

Who stands to gain from lucrative school transportation or food service
contracts to break-away southeast schools? George Cole's Oldtimers
foundation already runs a bus service for Huntington Park and a
Meals-on-Wheels operation under contract with the County of L.A.
LAUSD's charter school give-away plans do not seem to have any
prohibitions or checks and balances against lucrative self-dealing and
conflict of interest from those with pretensions for "authority over budget
and staffing".

It begs the question: Is this how Villaraigosa, Monica Garcia and Ramon
Cortines intended it to be? Or, are these just unintended consequences
in the Mayor's rush to free schools from LAUSD's grasp into the Panacea
that is promised with the break-away charter school movement? It is
troubling that we've arrived at having to ask such questions.
Those break-away charters in Southeast cities better run away from
strange men offering lolly-pops and best hide their cookie jars.

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